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K&N-Sponsored Driver Shea Holbrook Was a Big Part of Bicycle Speed Record Effort

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Shea Holbrook and Denise Mueller preparing to beat bicycle land speed record

K&N driver Shea Holbrook and Denise Mueller inside the Range Rover SVR that was used to tow Mueller up to speed

Outside the windshield the view was nothing like anything she’d seen before. “Bonneville is unlike any other track I’ve ever been to. There’s something very special about that place – it’s timeless,” said K&N supported racer Shea Holbrook who was selected to be the driver of the “pace car” for Denise Mueller as she made her attempt on the bicycle speed record last month.

A mother of three sons, Mueller is a 15-time national champion and current master’s national criterium (several laps around a closed circuit) champion. Clearly she has the chops to take on the record. Mueller envisioned Project Speed and recruited its members and contributors for an attack on the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. What Mueller was pursuing was the Paced Bicycle Land Speed Record, set by a cyclist who drafts behind a motor vehicle fitted with a tail fairing to minimize wind resistance on the cyclist. The concept was developed in the late 19th century when cyclists tucked in behind trains in a section where wood leveled the area between the rails. The current record for men is 152.2 mph. There is no record for women, and no woman has made an attempt.

Fabricating the fairing for the back of a Range Rover SVR

The enormous wind deflector comes together in the shops of Design Craft Fabrication, the Range Rover SVR waiting outside to be fitted (Photo courtesy Gary Castillo)

Holbrook, who normally competes in the Pirelli World Challenge in the Bubba Burger Honda Accord supported by K&N Filters, was selected by Mueller after being recommended by a mutual acquaintance. “I then got on the phone with Denise. We had such a good connection from the very beginning. She even said that I was more excited [about the project] than she was. We were just the perfect fit for the job,” Holbrook said.

This was an incredibly important responsibility for the young Floridian, as first she needed to tow Mueller up to speed and once Mueller starts pedaling, has to match the pace of the rider perfectly. But she was serious about her role. “Most of the responsibilities I was used to, although I’ve never been responsible for someone else’s life,” Holbrook said. “There’s no words to explain what it’s like having a person inches away from you at 147 mph over a distance of 4.5 miles,” she continued. “I’m trained to be smooth and fast whereas this was smooth and slow reactions, with a high level of intensity.”

Critical to the success of Team Speed was Mueller’s custom ride, which is sponsored by KHS Bicycles. The record-breaking bicycle was handmade by Len Lochmiller from San Diego in conjunction with SD Wheelworks in San Diego, California. While its appearance may look odd to the uninitiated, a racer will recognize immediately what the designer sought to achieve: the long wheelbase provides stability at high speed, while the low center of gravity set by the 17-inch motorcycle tires minimize the destabilizing effects of the ripples that have formed across the salt. The bike also utilizes a short-travel suspension to dampen high speed vibration, and is fitted with a steering stabilizer to eliminate any risky high speed wobbles generated by the uneven surface.

Custom bike made with low center of gravity and dual reduction gears

The unique design of the bicycle was convinced to operate with maximum efficiency at high speeds on the Bonneville Salt Flats (Photo courtesy Project Speed)

The double reduction gearing and drivetrain is custom made by Todd Schusterman of Davinci Designs, which sequentially links two drive systems with 60-tooth chain rings. This significantly reduces the pedaling Mueller needed to do. For example at 147 miles per hour she would only have been peddling at 102 RPM.

The enormous fairing for the Range Rover SVR was constructed by Gary Castillo of Design Craft Fabrication in Garden Grove, California. If you’ve been part of the import scene for any of the last two decades, you’ll recognize Gary’s name not only as an excellent mechanic and talented fabricator, but also as a technical contributor to import magazines. And if not, you’ve probably seen Gary’s work on the AMC show “Walking Dead”, for which he built Zombie-resistant cars. When Gary was asked about how he mounted the fairing into the Range Rover, he admitted, “we were told not to cut or weld on it but we eventually had to put in a few holes.” All for a good cause, it turned out.

Shea Holbrook pacing Denise Mueller on the Boneville Salt Flats

Shea Holbrook starts the Range Rover SVR rolling as Lisa Mueller comes up to speed on her bike (Photo courtesy Project Speed)

With the bicycle completed and the tow vehicle prepared, the team set out for a week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah. Holbrook and Mueller worked hard on the critical task of learning how to work in sync. “Honestly, I controlled how fast we went, based off of how I felt the runs were going; I decided if I thought Denise could handle more or not,” Holbrook said. “The more we practiced, the more Denise and I learned about each other and what we called “our dance,” she added.

But on the morning of Monday, September 12, it all came together. With cyclist and driver both in their safety gear, Holbrook began to tow Mueller to 100 mph, at which point Mueller detached the cable connecting the odd-looking bike to the Range Rover. They’d used the first of the four miles available to reach that speed. It was now a carefully synchronized “dance” to get Mueller up to a record pace. Acceleration followed by a rest period where Mueller rode in the slipstream, again and again. The dance between Holbrook and Mueller allowed Mueller to get up to speed by the end of mile two, and after which Mueller’s average speed between miles three and four would count toward the record.

While Mueller was not able to break the absolute world’s record set by her coach and mentor John Howard over 30 year ago, it is an enormous accomplishment to have come so close on a first attempt. And if the rain had held off and another day was available to make attempts, who knows what might have happened. Needless to say a speed of 147.7mph is nothing to sneeze at. For reference, that’s just shy of the take-off speed of a Boeing 737 commercial airliner. Further, Mueller set the long-missing women’s record and her speed is also one of the fastest ever recorded. All-in-all a fantastic outcome for Project Speed.


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